A Department for Communities and Local Government draft planning policy statement leaked earlier this week contains plans to scrap the so-called ‘Merton rule’, a local authority planning policy requiring developer to equip a new building with technologies allowing it to obtain at least 10 per cent of its energy requirement from renewable sources, such as solar power.
The renewable energy industry views the Merton Rule, which is named after the London Borough of Merton which first established it, as key to promoting a low carbon economy in the UK. The Merton rule has been adopted or is in the process of being adopted by 150 local authorities.
Environmental groups believe the Government, which was previously in favour of the rule, has caved into intense lobbying pressure from the Home Builders Federation and British Property Federation, whose members don’t want to face the added cost of meeting the requirements of the rule.
The Government proposals would tie local authorities’ hands by restricting the Merton Rule to specific sites agreed years in advance of development.
Central Government has a poor record on promoting renewables – its low carbon buildings programme has repeatedly run out of money to provide grants, and it has given up on meeting EU targets for adopting renewables.
Supporters of the Merton rule claim that without it, initiatives such as the solar thermal project being installed in the old Arsenal stadium in Highbury, London, the largest of its kind in the world, would not have happened.
Andrew Warren, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Partnership, told the Guardian: ‘We'd expect ministers to be embracing the Merton rule ... not falling for the current developer campaign of misrepresentation and skullduggery.’
This article first appeared in the Ecologist August 2007